March 23, 2021
China’s dairy product imports have posted their strongest start to any year on record.
The world’s largest dairy importer brought in more than 530 million pounds of whole milk powder (WMP) in January and February. That was 10.6% more than in the first two months of 2020, after adjusting for leap day, and 8.9% more than in January and February 2014, the previous record high. Similarly, at nearly 193 million pounds, China’s skim milk powder (SMP) imports in January and February 2021 were 38.8% greater than the daily average volume in the first two months of 2020 and 2.9% higher than the previous all-time high set in 2019. Chinese imports of ultra-high temperature fresh milk, dry whey, and cheese also set new highs for January and February. Only butter imports fell short of last year’s volumes.
As usual, when the calendar turned and zero-tariff quotas reset, Chinese importers rushed to secure milk powder from New Zealand. The country accounted for more than 70% of China’s SMP imports in January, up from 19% in December 2020. SMP from Oceania has continued to move into China at a rapid clip, according to USDA’s Dairy Market News, as other suppliers face hurdles. European milk production has been slower than expected, leaving little surplus for export. Shipping delays at U.S. ports have put American dairy products at a disadvantage.
As European exports dwindle and New Zealand whittles down its inventories, U.S. dairy product exports could thrive. However, unless carriers can untangle the snarled shipping lines, the U.S. dairy industry could miss out on a golden opportunity.